Ahhh Banff, how I am starting to love you more and more...and growing slightly depressed in realizing I have to leave you soon. Everyone, from the curlers to the media to the VIP guests, have been commenting on what a perfect scene Banff creates for this unique event. Huge shout out to all the volunteers as well. They have been working hard day in and day out with smiles on their faces and welcoming comments. The success of a top notch event relies on the volunteers putting in tireless hours. Thank you to each and every one of them! The fans as well have been amazing. The curlers commented about the fans numerous times, thanking them for the love of the sport. The fans were engaging but also showed great sportsmanship all weekend, embracing each of the 8 teams as home town teams and cheering/supporting them through every shot on the ice. The fan support and passion for the sport truly keeps the sport of curling alive and well.
Now onto the money.....money, money, money! The semi-finals were fun and exciting but now there is big money on the board. End skin amounts have been doubled and teams are playing for lots of cash and the title of Skins Game Champion.
Team Jennifer Jones vs. Team Val Sweeting
The number 2 vs. number 3 teams in the world battling it out for the women's title. The #BattleInBanff also comes down to a Western Canada provincial rivalry we have seen quite often in curling: Alberta vs. Manitoba. These are two teams quite familiar to one another...and have quite the recent history. Rewind your clock to last February in Moose Jaw at the 2015 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. In a span of 60 hours, they played each other 3 times. Jones' Manitoba team defeated Sweeting's Alberta team in the final RR game, giving her the top seed in the playoffs. Later in the day they would battle again in the 1vs2 page playoff game, again won by Jones. Sweeting would win her SF and set up a third showdown with Jones for the Scotties title. As we all know, Jones would once again get the best of Sweeting, scoring the winning point with her final draw in 10. Jones would go 3-0 against Sweeting en route to claiming her 5th Canadian title. Sweeting must be craving a bit of revenge while Jones, a finalist in the skins game last season, would love to take home the title after missing out last year.
End 1: Great crowd engagement right off the bat. The crowd acknowledges some outstanding sweeping by Sweeting team members Lori Olson-Johns and Rachel Brown with a nice "Great Sweeping" comment. Brown starts throwing off her jacket and mimics throwing it into the crowd, "It's getting warm in here". Some quick friendly banter back and forth with the crowd is what fans love to see. With Sweeting sitting the 2 points needed to claim the skin, JJ attempts a draw behind the counting stones but comes up light, leaving Val a throw away to collect the opening skin
Sweeting $2,000 - Jones $0
End 2: Team Sweeting again showing their love for the crowd. After a Brown shot comes to a rest, Olson-Johns looks over towards the Pinty's Pub and gives a friendly "Hi husband" comment. Again, the crowd laughs and enjoys the intimate environment. Back to the action on the ice. Both teams have come to play. We are seeing amazing draws and come around shots just skimming the guards. Jones vice Kaitlyn Lawes comes up with a huge hit and roll to the back button to sit 2. With her final stone, Val is forced to play an angle raise on her own in an attempt to steal the skin...no mistake! #Beauty Jones needs to try a long angle raise of her own now to try and force the carry over but hits the raised stone too thin. Steal of the skin of Sweeting.
Sweeting $4,000 - Jones $0
End 3: Another commercial break, another opportunity for fan engagement. Both teams take time to pose with fans and snap some pictures. Team Sweeting even goes out into the stands to snap a few pics with their cheering fans. As we have seen in the previous two ends, both teams quite comfortable going full offense to score the skin. Lots of rocks in play once again. Val makes a great last second call redirecting a stone by Olson-Johns to tick a Jones stone and freeze onto shot stone. Jones sitting one but could be difficult to score the second point needed for the skins. Jones comes through with a beauty tick and roll to pick up the skin. Game on!
Sweeting $4,000 - Jones $3,000
End 4: More great shot making in this women's final. Jones second Jill Officer with a beauty double take out to leave Jones sitting 2 early in the end. Val discussing Olson-Johns' first stone saying she wants "to save it (shot stone) but not for them" even gets a little laugh from Jennifer...standing right behind Val. Olson-Johns follows suit, coming down with the delicate hit and roll for shot. Noticing it was a hot shot, Olson-Johns' husband calls out "Hot like you".....got to love the banter going on between the curlers and the fans/family today. The crowd very appreciative of the high-caliber shot making they are seeing today, applauding both teams and all players for their shots. With Jones final, she does a light raise on her own stone trying to block off the button. Val, already sitting 1, has a delicate in-off roll to the button to score the skin but comes up with the nose hit. We have a carry over. After 4, team percentages were: Sweeting 84% Jones 82%. Worth noting Jones herself is only curling 63%.
End 5: After a carryover, we see some big money on the board this end: $7,000. With Olson-Johns' first, Val is ready to bring the play to the button area. Three straight draws/freezes to the button leave a crowded button. Jones sitting 1 but needing to clear up the front of the house littered with her own stones to try and score her two for the skin. With Jones sitting one, Val on her final stone throws a guard blocking a draw for Jones with her last. Jones is left with a difficult angle raise on her own stone sitting side 12 foot to score her second point and collect the skin. What a shot by Jones as she comes close...forcing a measure. The needle says....only one for Jones and another carryover.
Sweeting $4,000 - Jones $3,000
End 6: Back to back carryovers brings a HUGE end 6 worth $13,000. The hammer, and pressure to score two, now shifts over to Sweeting. As has been the case most ends, both teams fighting to own the control zone in front of the house early on. Sweeting second Dana Ferguson on fire this end, making back to back perfect runbacks. Jones sitting with one lonely yellow stone top of the 4 foot surrounded by Sweeting blue. Olson-Johns makes the solo yellow join the others in the hack with a beauty angle raise takeout. Lawes follows with a perfect draw to the side of the button, advantage Jones once again. Olson-Johns is PERFECT with a beauty double raise takeout, eliminating the Jones stone and leaving Sweeting sitting three. Right after the shot, Olson-Johns' husband yells out "That's my wife" again getting a nice response from the crowd...and Lori! Jones roars back with a perfect freeze to shot stone. Everyone is feeling the pressure of this end...big money on the line in a tight contest. Jones attempts a delicate tap on the counting Sweeting stones but rubs off her own instead. Val with an open draw to bite the button for the big skin. Things get tense but Val comes through in the clutch with the draw, the skin and the lead. Both thirds came to play today, shown by their player percentages after 6: Lori Olson-Johns 96% and Kaitlyn Lawes 94%.
Sweeting $17,000 - Jones $3,000
End 7: Pivotal end for Jones. With this skin worth $9,000, she cannot afford to give up any more money to Sweeting or the championship will be out of reach. With Sweeting sitting shot stone biting the 4 foot, she is trying to protect the counter with some guards. Lawes attempts the draw around shot stone but instead ticks it and rolls open albeit sitting shot now. Val makes Team Jones pay for the miss, removing shot stone and rolling behind cover side button to sit 2. With Jones having only her two stones remaining, she needs to count both if she hopes to grab this skin. The Olympic champ comes through with a beauty finding a tight port, hitting shot stone and now sitting shot. Val makes her own beauty with a delicate nose hit however to sit 2. Jones is forced to a draw full 4 foot for the carry over. #Clutch with the draw to the button for the carry over.
Sweeting $17,000 - Jones $3,000
End 8: Here we go....everything on the line in the final end. The last end of the game will be worth a whopping $22,000 for the skins and an extra $15,000 winners bonus for a total of $37,000! The energy is becoming more electric in the Fenlands Centre, the crowd knowing everything is coming down to these final 16 stones. Ferguson makes the big shot to energize the crowd, the runback double removing one Jones stone and pushing the other to a biter at the top side of the house. Lawes comes through with 2 beauty draws on her shots....Olson-Johns matches with 2 sweet takeouts but unfortunately stuffs the final one and leaving Jones sitting two. JJ draws top 4 foot with her first, sitting 3 and applying the pressure to Sweeting. Brown reminds Sweeting and Olson-Johns they have under 90 seconds to play the final two shots...with a slight grimace on her face. Sweeting makes a nice runback to remove one of Jones stones and open the front of the house. Game now hinges on JJ attempting to steal or Val forcing this game to a carryover draw to the button for the title and money. Jones again shows her #CanadaClutch skills with a perfect draw back 8 foot, sitting two. High stakes, high pressure. Val needs to draw full 4 foot for the carry over. Val's draw slides far....off to a measurement for the win. The measure goes to....Team Jones! What a game....and a nice comeback win for the defending Scotties champ.
FINAL: Jones $40,000 - Sweeting $17,000
What a championship final! Sweeting looked in control of this game from the beginning but could never shake JJ. Jennifer once again proved why she is still one of the best elite skips in the world, coming through with clutch shots when the pressure was on. She is unfazed by big pressure moments and seems to shine and excel when her back is up against the wall. A great final played by both teams. While both teams may have struggled in their semi-final games, the fans were treated to an A+ quality final. All 8 athletes on the ice played great.
Congrats to the 2016 TSN Pinty's All-Star Skins Game women's champion: Team Jennifer Jones! Her combined winnings from the semi-final, final and winner's bonus total $54,000. Although, aren't you supposed to take the big display cheque with you when you win?
After the post-game celebrations and festivities, I had the chance to talk with Lori Olsen-Johns and Dawn McEwen. Both interviews will be included in interview blog post coming Monday...stay tuned. Both were great to talk to and very friendly. A huge #TwineTime thank you to them both!
The final winnings total for the 4 teams was:
Team Jones - $54,000
Team Sweeting - $31,500
Team Homan - $7,500 (Homan picked up an extra $1,000 for winning the draw to the button)
Team Rocque - $7,000